Holy Cross girls’ bid to return to state final comes up short in semifinal loss

Caption: The Holy Cross girls’ basketball starters for Friday night’s semifinal walk onto the floor for the beginning of the game. They are
(from left to right): Shania Howard, Isabella Oliver, Mya Zaccagnini, Corinne Lomax and Lariyah Booker. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69) 

The Holy Cross girls’ basketball team had E.O. Smith-Storrs right where they wanted them in Friday night’s Class L state semifinal game at New Britain High School. Then they didn’t.

All it took was about 12 ½ minutes for an 18-point lead to disappear, and with it went a golden opportunity to reach a second straight state final. The second-seeded and defending state champion Crusaders lost, 66-60, to the third-seeded Panthers in Chick Shea Gymnasium. Holy Cross’ great season ended at 22-4, and so did the career of star Mya Zaccagnini. Zaccagnini was subbed out of the lineup for the final time with 2.5 seconds remaining for some emotional hugs. She scored a game-high 19 points in her last game. Junior Shania Howard had 17 points and freshman Corinne Lomax added 14.

Holy Cross led, 33-15, after a Howard fast break layup with over three minutes left in the first half. E.O. Smith scored six of the last eight points of the half, but Cross still led, 35-21, at the break.

The Panthers scored the first seven points of the third quarter, and when 6-foot-2 senior Madison Hughes buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the top of the key, her team was within three points, 45-42.

E.O. Smith scored the first four points of the fourth quarter on a putback from another 6-foot-2 senior, Isabella Mallory Allen, and a drive and layup by senior lefty Lillianna Clark. The score was 46-45 in favor of the Panthers, and Crusader head coach Frank Lombardo called time with 6:39 to play.

Holy Cross fell behind by as many as eight points, but pulled within three at 63-60 with 45.4 seconds to go on Zaccagnini’s final points, a 3-pointer in front of her team’s bench. That was as close as the Crusaders got.

Holy Cross obviously loses Zaccagnini, the program’s all-time leading scorer, to graduation. The Crusaders are slated to return a bunch of talented players who gained valuable experience during the 2022-23 season. Expect Holy Cross to keep playing near the top of the state, but this loss is going to sting for a while.

GALLERY: Here are my photos from Friday night’s game.